US frees Irish wedding guest

Joe Black, a former IRA Volunteer detained in the US for the past five weeks, is to be released tomorrow.

Mr Black was arrested at Philadelphia Airport on July 7 after arriving in the United States with his family to attend a niece’s wedding.

He was sentenced to 35 days in prison Thursday for failing to claim a criminal past on a U.S. customs form based on his role in the IRA in the 1970s.

Border agents said Mr Black committed a crime when he answered “no” on a form that asked if he had ever been convicted of a crime of “moral turpitude”.

It later emerged that a family member who filled in forms for the group of tourists had not understood the phrase “moral turpitude”. Border officials, apparently acting on information supplied by British authorities, considered Mr Black’s activity in the IRA to be terrorist in nature.

Mr Black is now in the process of being deported.

“We’re happy. The family is happy,” said brother in law Sean McClorey. “Our wish now is for him to go home as soon as possible.”

Mr Black is one of a number of veterans of the conflict in the North who have been victimised over the past year by US authorities. Many have spent several months in a detention center awaiting deportation.

“Joe let the judge know that if he ever gets another wedding invitation, he’s going to send a check,” McClorey said. “He doesn’t intend to come back to the United States anytime soon.”

New York Congressman Elliot Engel, a Democrat, was said to have interceded to ensure Mr Black’s freedom.

“Congressman Engel deserves our thanks and gratitude for his efforts in dealing with Immigration and assuring that Joe will not sit in jail waiting to be returned to Ireland.

“A special debt of gratitude goes to Jason Steinbaum, his Chief of Staff who answered many questions and initiated many of the phone calls to obtain information and press Joe’s case,” said a spokeswoman for the Irish-American Unity Conference, which lobbied on Mr Black’s behalf.

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